Conservation Announcement: Sandhill Lake Wildlife Sanctuary joins Riveredge!

Riveredge Nature Center is elated to announce the gift of a nearby 40-acre parcel of land entrusted to us to conserve and restore. Sandhill Lake Wildlife Sanctuary is near the main Riveredge property, though not connected, and has been donated by the Hepburn family of Cedarburg, longtime friends and supporters of Riveredge.

This property already holds a conservation easement and the location offers exciting opportunities to both conserve and improve habitat. The parcel boasts various habitats, including marshland, forest, riparian stream, agricultural land in production, post-agricultural prairie, and access to Sandhill Lake. In the upcoming years, it will be used as another education outpost for a variety of programs.

Riveredge conservation staff will conduct a thorough survey  of the property to develop a conservation restoration and management plan. Initial inspections have revealed badger dens, more than 50 species of birds, and excellent turtle breeding habitat.

From a programmatic use standpoint, we envision this location for various potential educational opportunities, including: summer camps, homeschool programs, field trips, academic partner research endeavors, and scout group outings.

When we think of real estate in the context of conservation, the funny thing about ownership titles, real estate deeds, shoreline easements is that Rusty-patched Bumble Bees, Pileated Woodpeckers, and Rainbow Trout all have no regard for such human declarations. This is why Riveredge’s conservation philosophy is to work alongside neighbors, farmers, land owners, and future environmentalists to expand how properties can become a both more beautiful and resplendent beacon for wildlife. We look forward to cultivating goodwill with our new neighbors at Sandhill Lake.

We look forward to conserving this robust habitat with efforts that will increase the native and migratory species seen on Sandhill Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, and will in turn have a positive ripple effect on the neighboring properties. With gratitude and purpose, we thank the Hepburn family for their longtime friendship and support, and for entrusting Riveredge with the earnest duty of caring for Sandhill Lake Wildlife Sanctuary.

 

How Winter Work Creates a Summer Landscape at Riveredge

Winter forestry efforts create a healthier summer landscape.

As someone working in the conservation field, people might assume I spend my days planting trees, watering new seedlings, telling gentle sweet nothings to budding prairie flowers, and sowing seed as I walk. And while I do those things as well, much of my days are spent collecting data on the plants and animals we manage, educating others, developing long-term restoration plans reciprocal to the capacity for a tree to live a long life, and creating disturbances as many of the species that reside here need disturbance to thrive. It is this disturbance that can be hard to pallet or understand why you might cut something or burn something to help.

It can be initially a strange feeling how conservation can manifest in acts that are reductive, however, in order to build a stronger house, you sometimes have to knock some things down.

The spartan February forest and prairie beyond at Riveredge.

Felling trees might seem anathema to a healthy forest, but in terms of what trees offer to the surrounding ecosystem, all trees are not equal in every situation. The work we engage in throughout the winter is an excellent example. Volunteers who help in these efforts are invaluable, and I invite you to join us in conserving and restoring the rolling prairie hills and strong oak edges of Riveredge.

In nature, oak trees are like a grocery store. Some oaks can live to be hundreds of years old and provide a remarkable abundance of sustenance to migratory and resident birds, a bevy of insects, and literally hundreds of other species. Some oak species have such a positive effect on the surrounding wildlife that their effect almost seems disproportionate. Additionally, oaks are the framework of our imperiled fire dependent savanna and woodland ecosystems.

Newly sparse surroundings will allow this oak to stretch out in summertime.

In this forest, we’re seeing Sugar Maples encroaching into a previously more open oak woodland. Sugar Maples, while a treasured species near and dear to us at Riveredge, are in direct opposition to the success of an oak savanna or woodland. Maples grow much faster and quickly out-compete oaks. In the absence of fire and with an overabundance of White-tailed Deer, maples have a competitive advantage.

Territories are continually changing in forests between older, slower growth fire tolerant species and faster growing, less fire tolerant trees. At present, some of these tall and slim Sugar Maples, a fraction of the diameter of the oaks, are winning the race to canopy sunlight. In this location, we’ve “daylighted” or opened up the landscape for oaks to stretch out and breathe. In an effort to provide more space for oaks to have a greater positive influence on the surrounding environment, we’re trimming back these Sugar Maples.

The result: an oak tree with plenty of space to leaf out and flourish.

The good news is that all of these trees will go on to be valuable – either to us humans or to countless forest species. For our part, we’ll use some of these logs for construction lumber and others for logs on which to grow shiitake mushrooms. In the following decades, logs that remain in the forest will provide valuable habitat for birds, salamanders, fungi, flowers, insects and other species.

By thinning the forest canopy at these locations, and all that apply, we approach our work with the spirit that nothing in nature is ever wasted, and apply our efforts earnestly with a 200-year mindset.

An oak with sky surrounding its branches can be a healthier oak.

Written by Matt Smith, Riveredge Land Manager

 

Spring Flower Blooms at Riveredge | May 15, 2021

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what flowers she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

Prairie Smoke not quite yet “smoking.”

In Bloom

Hepatica
Spring Beauty
False Rue Anemone
Spring Cress
Common Blue Violet
Swamp Buttercup
Marsh Marigold
Wood Anemone
Prairie Smoke
Wild Ginger
Wild Blue Phlox
Downy Yellow Violet
Jack in the Pulpit
Kidney Leaved Buttercup
Blue Cohosh
Large Flowered Trillium
Gooseberry
Wood Betony
Goldenseal
Lyre Leaved Rock Cress
Pussy Toes
Kitten Tails
Bellwort
Jacob’s Ladder
Golden Alexander
Shooting Stars
Bastard Toadflax
Wild Geranium
Early Meadow Rue
Nodding Trillium
Swamp Saxifrage
Cleavers Bedstraw
Wild Columbine
Miterwort
Heart Leaved Golden Alexander
Red Trillium
Stoneseed
Thyme Leaved Speedwell
Starry False Solomon’s Seal
False Solomon’s Seal
Wild Sarsaparilla
White Blue Eyed Grass
Blue Eyed Grass
May Apple
Dwarf Ginseng
Purple Avens
Fringed Puccoon

Side view of Jack in the pulpit.

Flower Buds Present

Solomon’s Seal
Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper
Cream Wild Indigo

Trillium, just beginning to turn pink in some places.

Pickerel Weed
Tuberous Indian Plantain
Prairie Golden Aster
Blue Wild Indigo

Spring Flower Blooms at Riveredge | May 2, 2021

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what flowers she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

In Bloom

Hepatica
Bloodroot
Spring Beauty
False Rue Anemone
Spring Cress
Penn Sedge
Common Blue Violet
Dutchman’s Breeches
Swamp Buttercup (P)
Cut Leaved Toothwort
Marsh Marigold
Wood Anemone
White Trout Lily
Prairie Smoke
Early Buttercup
Wild Ginger
Wild Blue Phlox
Downy Yellow Violet (P)
Jack in the Pulpit
Kidney Leaved Buttercup
Blue Cohosh
Large Flowered Trillium
Gooseberry
Wood Betony
Gooseberry
Goldenseal
Lyre  Leaved Rock Cress
Pussy Toes
Kitten Tails
Bellwort
Jacob’s Ladder

Flowers in Bud

Heart Leaved Golden Alexander
Bastard Toadflax
Wild Geranium
Early Meadow Rue
Golden Alexander
Wild Sarsaparilla
Cleavers Bedstraw
Dwarf Ginseng
Miterwort

Trout Lily

Sprouts/Leaves Present

Cow Parsnip
Lion’s Foot
Stoneseed

Spring Flower Blooms at Riveredge | April 23, 2021

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what flowers she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

In Bloom

Hepatic
Pasque Flower
Bloodroot
Spring Beauty
Penn Sedge
Common Blue Violet
Dutchman’s Breeches
Swamp Buttercup
Cut Leaved Toothwort
Weatherproof
Marsh Marigold
Wood Anemone
White Trout Lily
Prairie Smoke
Early Buttercup
Willow

Flower in Bud

May Apple
Wood Betony
Wild Blue Phlox
Shooting Stars

Sprouts/Leaves Present

Blue Cohosh
Early Meadow Rue
Bullhead Lily
Blue Flag Iris
Dwarf Ginseng
Kitten Tail
Cup Plant

Spring Flower Blooms at Riveredge | April 12, 2021

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what flowers she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

In Bloom

Skunk Cabbage
Hepatica
Pasque Flower
Bloodroot
Spring Beauty
False Rue Anemone
Spring Cress
Penn Sedge
Common Blue Violet
Dutchman’s Breeches
Swamp Buttercup
Cut Leaved  Toothwort
Hairy Wood Rush
Leatherwood
Marsh Marigold

Flower Buds Present

Prairie Smoke
Jacob’s Ladder

Sprouts/Leaves Present

Golden Alexander
Heart Leaved Golden Alexander
Rattlesnake Master
Wild Bergamot
Angelica
Nodding Wild Onion
White Trout Lily
Wild Geranium
Beach Wormwood
Wild Ginger
Mayapple
Shooting  Stars
Red Trillium
Common Valerian

Sticky Business: The Future Footing of Maples in Wisconsin

A lovely late afternoon in the Riveredge Sugarbush. The Sugarbush House where we cook sap down into syrup can be seen in the distance.

Botanist John Curtis, famous for having written The Vegetation of Wisconsin, referred to Maple trees as “nutrient pumpers,” enriching the soils in which they root. In the Riveredge Sugarbush, it’s common to find a maple seedling every two inches. Maples are so nutrient baring that an entire assemblage of specific animals, known as a guild, from tiny insects all the way to Black Bears, is directly dependent on maple trees.

Forests: A Continual State of Flux

We tend to think of trees as defining a forest, and they’re important, certainly charismatic, but they’re also one facet of an ecosystem. Factors such as soil type, acidity, moisture, and sunlight dictate which trees will be suitable for a given area and not the other way around.

A Pileated Woodpecker at Riveredge Nature Center.

At Riveredge, we observe and foster a diversity of trees, much of which can be traced to a cut in the 1920’s, and which allowed oaks, hickories, and other species to grow up within the Sugar Maples. Forests with greater diversity tend to be stronger against threats such as diseases or invasive species such as the Emerald Ash Borer. In nature, greater native diversity is generally regarded as beneficial to everyone.

Just as an excavated and only once used Woodpecker cavity nest will continue to be used by other animals, the root channels of an aging tree system will offer younger tree roots opportunities to colonize and expand healthily. We can think of this as a floristic inheritance from aunts and uncles.

Some of the history of our region on display inside of the Riveredge Visitor’s Center.

Hands-on Research and Conservation

For these reasons (and others), clearcutting a forest and replanting other trees can result in less than stellar results and forest health, which sustainable forestry endeavors to take into consideration. Though heralded only recently, this isn’t particularly new to the Americas. The 230,000-acre Menominee Forest in northern Wisconsin has been logged sustainably and profitably since the mid-19th century and is one of the healthiest forests on this continent.

Despite our cinematic imaginations, individual trees are not able to stand up on their roots and venture off. Forests, however, can gradually migrate their location and distribution over years and decades and centuries. This can be both the result of the given lifespan of a type of forest’s existence in an area, and can be the result of environmental factors such as climate change.

Research observes that Sugar Maple forests are gradually migrating north, following cooler temperatures as our region trends gradually warmer due to climate change. Riveredge is located at the southern distribution of Sugar Maple habitat.

In some locations at Riveredge, forest health means thinning Sugar Maple populations so that Oaks can flourish.

At Riveredge, we endeavor to undertake our land management strategy with the scope of a 100+ year vision. How can we best invite this land and the species living within it to flourish a century from now? In considering climate change, for example, oak trees are more drought tolerant than maples and we will look to plant more oaks across the landscape. Oaks also support a guild of species in a manner similar to maples.

None of us knows what the future holds, and at Riveredge we’re pleased to continue celebrating our 5th season of the year. In the future, we may look to incorporate more warmth-tolerant species as climate change develops, such as the Black Maple, also known as the Savanna Sugar Maple or Southern Sugar Maple. Our flavor may evolve with the times, but Riveredge will remain just as sweet.

Fresh Riveredge Farm Produce for Sale!

Many people know about Riveredge Nature Center as a place to visit for a hike to see wildlife or visit for a field trip, but you may not know that we also have The Riveredge Farm: an onsite 4-acre organic permaculture farm. We sell produce in our Visitor’s Center, and you can also purchase produce for future pickup from our online store. Here is a list of our fresh offerings available for purchase right now at Riveredge.

-Starry Night Acorn Squash

-Butternut Squash

-Apple Cider

-Dehydrated Shiitake Mushrooms

-Canned Tomatoes

-Garlic

-Black Currant Preserves

-Red Currant Preserves

-Gold Potatoes

-Austrian Crescent Fingerlings

Making a Habit of Adventure Throughout the Seasons

If I learned anything this spring, it’s that our lives are an accumulation of habits sprinkled with a few deviations and vacations throughout the years. The contents of these habits, and what orients our pursuits, becomes our days and years and lifetimes.

Exploring outdoors during a Pandemic

The autumn leaves are starting to turn along the Milwaukee River

When this Coronavirus came calling in March, our field trips and programs were cancelled and Riveredge (aside from trails remaining open) overall closed down. Like many of us, I performed the bulk of my work from home. For months, I was removed from my conventions of stepping outside to take a video for our Instagram account, walking the trails to photograph blooms and landscapes, running into students on field trips delighted to explore the sanctuary.

As Covid research progressed, scientists published that the overall safest place to be is outdoors in nature. I rejoiced, and gradually returned to my regular jaunts throughout the 379 acres of Riveredge, gradually reacquainting my habit of walking out the door to discover what next wild creature or flower or unexpected insect was around the next trail bend. I reclaimed my habit of instilling my days with adventure and discovery.

Making a plan to flourish during the cold winter months

Plenty of wonder and awe to experience throughout winter at Riveredge.

As we go into another potential season of relative radio silence (whether due to pandemic or our cold weather conventions), I find myself considering which habits to keep and which to shed. We Midwesterners tend to turn inwardly home and hibernate for the cold months. Throughout the snowy season, many of us leave for work in the morning and it’s dark and when we return home the sky is again dark, save for eventual star reflections twinkling against the snow.

In this autumn season that transitions from flannels and warming palms by rubbing hands together into coats and hats and gloves, habits strike me as especially important. I invite you to join me in finding ways to inject a sense of cold weather adventure into your days. The trails at Riveredge are open to you, as they have been for 50 years. Think of these autumn brass-patina prairies and flowing kettle rising moraine forests as your restorative playground to breathe in. A Riveredge membership provides both motivation and opportunity to get outdoors year-round.

Sure, it takes a little extra planning to put on the socks and boots and ear coverings. But the reward – the sounds of rustling leaves, treetop owl echoes, and creaking oaks and maples singing through your soul – will be worth it your time. Think of it as an investment. The investment of your lifetime.

By Ed Makowski, Riveredge Marketing & Communications Manager

 

 

For Educators: Simple Steps for Mapping Your Schoolyard

 

Now that school is underway, you may be trying to incorporate what you gained from participating in Taking Education Outside the School Walls. We covered a lot of ground and I hope everyone walked away with a few nuggets of worthwhile information.

Let’s circle back to how valuable it can be to scout your school grounds – all of it – gravel, pavement, grass, trees, playgrounds, and the space around the school. Intentional observations on how and where you can teach outside. Here are the simple steps to do so.

Mapping Your Outdoor Areas

Grab a few items:

  • Printed view of your school grounds
  • Notepad
  • Pencil
  • List of topics you cover in all subjects

Here is an example of an Outdoor Map I’ve created. Start walking around your school and find spots where your whole class would be able to congregate as a group. Find multiple environments: shaded or covered areas; covered by trees or buildings in case it rains, locations out in the sun, and maybe a mix of them all. What does the area look like around these spaces? Are there playgrounds, trees, exposed soil, grass, prairie, pond, asphalt, hills, and landscaped areas? You do not need huge open green areas to teach outside, work with whatever assets your school has to offer. Consider how you can bring your lessons outside and teach in the space you have before you. Need materials? Students can carry materials outside – this gives them both purpose and responsibility.

Matching Lessons with Outdoor Spaces

What lessons and topics do you cover with your students throughout the year? Are you working on addition or subtraction? Maybe you could you use sidewalk blocks, pine cones, trees, or work on that worksheet while sitting under a tree. If they are learning about insects seek a spot in the school yard where plants grow or ant hills spring forth, bring magnifying glasses out to explore these locations. Is there a great shade tree to read to your class beneath?

If learning about creating graphs, you can count birds during different times of the day. Are there spaces to take a sensory walk? Students can learn about human impact, plant identification, and soil all within your school yard. What material is your parking lot made of? In exploring this you can you teach about different surfaces, permeability, how water interacts with and absorbs (or doesn’t!) through them. You can explore the sun and moon while learning about shadows coming from any part of the building, structure, or landscaping.

Silent sit spots are a great way to make seasonal observations, and students can learn about how the natural world changes (what we call phenology) by going back to the same spot multiple times. Is there a pond nearby…if not you can observe puddles at a safe parking lot location where water pools. If learning about animals you can take students on an observation walk. Additionally, outdoor space is great for brain break movement activities. After all, there’s a reason why recess takes place outside!

You can move your teaching outside in many ways – one way is just to determine a new environment for teaching to take place and the second step is to incorporate that environment into your lessons.

If you have yet to map your school yard so you can have a quick reference to look at through the year, I highly recommend that you create one. It is easier to look at your map and remember spots then try to do it on the spot before a lesson. Enjoy whatever outdoor space you have!

Written by Rachel Feerick, the Riveredge Cedarburg School District Scientist in Residence